ORONO, Maine — Tanner House’s college hockey career got off to an inauspicious start.
He was suspended for six games after being charged with unlawful sexual touching and assault at 103 Ultra Lounge in Orono on Nov. 4, 2007.
Those charges were later dropped, but House was determined to transform that negative experience into a positive. And he did.
The University of Maine’s junior center is the team captain and was recently named the recipient of the M Club’s Dean Smith Award given to the school’s top male and female scholar-athletes.
It is awarded to the top student-athlete based on academic and athletic performance, citizenship and community service.
House centers Maine’s top line between sophomore Gustav Nyquist and Brian Flynn and has racked up 16 goals and 19 assists in 33 games. He is Maine’s third-leading scorer entering tonight’s Hockey East semifinal against Boston University at the TD Garden in Boston.
Nyquist has 18 & 41 to lead the team while Flynn has 18 & 25 and is second.
House missed the team’s first four games this season with a knee injury and the Bears went 1-3 in those games.
He has been involved in several community projects and has a 3.82 grade point average in finance.
“I’ve definitely had my ups and downs,” said House. “My freshman year was a big learning experience for me. [The incident and suspension] probably helped me. It definitely improved my character. Coach [Tim Whitehead] and I talked about turning a negative into a positive.”
House had one goal and 10 assists in 29 games as a freshman and improved to 10 & 14 in 39 games last season.
His 16 goals this season are the most he has scored in a season in several years. He had 14 goals in each of his last two seasons for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.
“I’ve always had more assists than goals but being on a line with [Nyquist] and [Flynn] is a pretty good step up and I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to shoot a lot more,” said House. “That’s probably why my goals are up. It’s been fun.”
The line was put together early last season and has emerged as one of the nation’s most prolific lines.
“Any line [Nyquist] and [Flynn] are on is going to be a pretty strong line. I bring a defensive aspect to it. We jell well together. We get along well off the ice as well as on the ice. We try to enjoy it as much as we can,” said House, a native of Cochrane, Alberta.
“He’s our best defensive forward,” said Nyquist.
BU coach Jack Parker said he considers the House line one of the best in the country and said House “is emerging as a star in this league.”
“I’m really proud of Tanner,” said Whitehead. “When some people get into trouble, they pout or get mad and something else happens. Tanner was very determined to turn that into a positive. He became a stronger person because of it and he has done that. He has really worked hard to contribute in the community and he is an elite student. He’s very inspirational to other student-athletes.”
Then there is his leadership.
“He has been a tremendous leader on and off the ice,” said junior assistant captain Jeff Dimmen. “He has handled academics like a champion. He comes ready to work every day and has really led this young team to where we are.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” said senior goalie David Wilson. “He’s a leader off the ice as well as on it. He’s quiet but he speaks up when he needs to.”
Freshman right wing Joey Diamond called him an “unbelievable leader. Tanner and Jeff Dimmen are the types of people you want to be like. They are leaders who do everything right, on the ice and off the ice and in the weight room.”
“He has taken care of the new guys,” said Nyquist.
House said he has had ups and downs as a leader.
“When you’re winning, it’s easy to be a leader,” said House. “When you have a few bad games, that’s when you really need to buckle down.
“I’m not a huge rah-rah guy so I try to lead by example,” said House. “The guys have made it pretty easy for me. They ask questions and are very respectful.”
He was flattered by the Smith Award.
“It’s nice to be recognized for an off-ice accomplishment. They had a lot of good student-athletes to choose from and just to be nominated with those people was pretty nice,” said House, who added that his GPA is reflective of his interest in his major.
“If you’re doing something you enjoy, it’s easy to do well,” he said.
House said he is excited to play in the TD Garden and they focusing solely on tonight’s game.
“Anything can happen in one game so we’ve got to be ready to go,” said House, whose overtime goal in game three of their best-of-three quarterfinal series against UMass Lowell Sunday night earned the Bears their first trip to the semifinals since 2006.